Archive for August, 2007
Most of the concerts I remember best are ones that have a side story that’s ended up having more personal, symbolic meaning to me than the actual show. Like Cheap Trick in a tiny Salt Lake City club in ‘86 when a kleptomaniac friend of mine crept into the backstage area under the speakers to see what he could find. He ended up mangling up the electrical cords so badly on his way there that the entire stage blacked out in the middle of the group’s first encore and everyone had to go home disappointed. Or my 80-year-old grandmother sneaking me, her underage grandson, into the nightclub at a San Francisco Hotel in ‘87 so I could experience Bobby Bland. Or Jeff Buckley in a small Austin coffeehouse in ‘93. My wife and I had gotten in free because I’d given the clubowner a Tim Buckley mix tape sometime before the gig. But the Christ-child aura surrounding Tim’s son was so unbearably heavy for us – even back then – that four numbers into the show, a grizzled, old-timer friend of ours leaned over and said “let’s go to Denny’s” and we did. And Buckley ended up being a mere bit player (gasp!) in what nonetheless ended up as an entirely memorable evening.
I guess it’s no surprise, then, that most of my favorite pieces in The Show I’ll Never Forget, a collection of reminiscences of fifty (mostly fiction) writers, are ones where the pre- and post-show personal contexts are weightier than the shows themselves. Jerry Stahl can’t separate a David Bowie show from a kind gesture Bowie had given him earlier in an interview, both of which nonetheless pale in comparison to Stahl’s personal situation. David Ritz takes an unbelievable post-gig car ride with Jimmy Reed that’s got nothing, overtly, to do with music. Richard Burgin finds himself having a candid, private conversation with Bill Evans in which music plays second fiddle. Heidi Julavits’s encounter with Rush is a mere incidental in her relationship with a high school boyfriend and, on a larger scale, her hometown.
Because the number of contributors who are either regular music writers or actual musicians is in the single digits, the book benefits from so many fresh interpretations of musical experience (even while sagging from overloads of writerly wit). I especially like how this collection reveals how seasoned fiction writers can find themselves grasping for words in the face of a great pop music show (Diana Ossana, Samantha Hunt, John Haskell), and how seasoned music writers, on the other hand, can run the risk of squelching similar experiences with clomping boots of authoritative exposition (Gary Giddins, Harvey Pekar, Charles R. Cross). A small handful of pieces falls into the almost-too-slight-to-merit-inclusion category (Chuck Klosterman, Marc Bojanowski, Thurston Moore), and another falls into the too-recent-to-believe category (Alice Elliott Dark, and the closing piece by Daniel Handler and Andrew Sean Greer which is clever, but untrustworthy). Best of all are those pieces that are able to locate the concert experience as a memorable thread in a complex web and tell us how it fits. Yes – music listening and concert going are most satisfying when done for their own sake. Writing about them, though, happens to be a whole different story.
Here’s my list of ten pieces I’ll never forget from The Show I’ll Never Forget:
1-David Ritz on Jimmy Reed
2-Ron Carlson on the Steve Abbot Benefit Concert
3-Richard Burgin on Bill Evans
4-Paul Muldoon on Horslips (some serious word pleasure here)
5-Heidi Julavits on Rush (featuring Neil, the armless, blind, and toothless drummer)
6-Robert Polito on The Pogues
7-Carl Newman on Redd Kross
8-Rick Moody on The Lounge Lizards (featuring a “rebuttal” from John Lurie)
9-Jerry Stahl on David Bowie (you start this one cringing then end up glowing)
10-Max Allan Collins on Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin
posted by Kim Simpson
Love Song were one of the best-loved “Jesus Freak” groups within that movement, but their albums are all out of print. “Welcome Back” is their crowning glory because it’s loaded with so much emotion: lead singer Chuck Girard’s soaring, born-again lead; the repentant backup singers’ heartbroken harmonies; and the melancholy melodica suggesting regret + relief. Girard, by the way, is the man who does the Mike Love sendup on the Hondell’s “Little Honda” recording, although a stand-in mimed it for the group’s TV appearances.
Love Song – “Welcome Back”
Charles L. Granata, Wouldn’t It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (2003)Tuesday, August 7th, 2007
Charles L. Granata’s Wouldn’t It Be Nice is the first of three fairly recent books devoted to Pet Sounds, and if I were Granata, I admit I’d have shied away from the project after having read the very thorough David Leaf booklet that came with the 1997 Pet Sounds Sessions box set. But his book ends up being a worthwhile synthesis of the album’s back story and makes for a more than adequate accounting of the LP’s modern-day canonical status. The author clearly has a deep appreciation for songcraft (this is equally evident in his other writings about Frank Sinatra), and depending on the reader, Granata’s musical analysis – while never completely over the top – will either strengthen or bog down the reading experience. (Only after reading this book, by the way, did I ever see the very specific and now-so-seemingly-obvious influence of Pet Sounds on the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere.”)
Other readers who may find this book a struggle will be folks like myself who endeavor to read every page ever written about the Beach Boys and who will undoubtedly snooze through some of the book’s oft-recycled quotes and anecdotes. My advice to those readers is to stick with it, because there are lots of hidden little gems that will inevitably manifest themselves due to the eyebrow-raising number of authoritative witnesses Granata interviewed. (I like the story of Brian coaxing guitarist Billy Strange, who didn’t own an electric 12-string, to bring along the young son he was babysitting into the studio with him so he could watch his dad lay down the intro to “Sloop John B” on gear that would be provided for him. After laying down the part, Brian sends Strange and Strange Jr. off into the night, saying “don’t forget your guitar and amplifier.”) Wouldn’t It Be Nice is especially recommended for folks who’ve never read anything substantial about the Beach Boys and have little patience for the in-crowd only approach that plenty of rock-crit writing is guilty of.
Sidebar: Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Granata wins a bonus mention and my deepest appreciation for being who I believe is the only Beach Boy author to fully acknowledge the masterful contribution Brian made to Linda Ronstadt’s Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind LP in 1989, the year after his solo debut. He did the vocal arrangement for Jimmy Webb’s “Adios,” which stands among the most beautiful and heartrending tracks he’s ever been associated with. Please indulge me as I revel in Granata’s attention to this criminally overlooked moment:
“Among Brian’s most notable work of the new decade was his 1990 [no, 1989, but you’re forgiven, my son] collaboration with Linda Ronstadt on Jimmy Webb’s ‘Adios.’ Webb marveled at how intact Wilson’s musical acumen was, given the difficulties he’d surmounted. ‘From what I was told, he went in to Skywalker Sound and put on a magic show,’ the songwriter says. ‘It was a real ‘This is how you do a head vocal arrangement‘ demonstration in which he created all of the parts on the spot, laying down one vocal after another. He was in complete control of the situation, and went right through the process from beginning to end. In my estimation, the results were pretty special. I was very happy, and very proud of that meeting, that chance for a brush with greatness. It was a wonderful thing for me and my song.” Well said, Mr. Webb, and well done, Mr. Granata.
posted by Kim Simpson
It’s a gospel pork chop party for your Sunday consideration (but do be mindful of flying limbs).